Federal appeals court sets deadline for Louisiana Legislature to decide whether to change challenged congressional map

A federal appeals court said the Louisiana Legislature should have until January 15 to revise its congressional district map before a constitutional challenge to the plan moves forward.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decided Friday to give the state one last chance to decide whether to make changes.

“An opportunity to adopt a new plan is appropriate since redistricting is a quintessential obligation of a state after a census,” said Judge Leslie Southwick, who was nominated to the appeals court by President George W. Bush.

The Louisiana case had been effectively frozen for two years while the Supreme Court considered a similar redistricting dispute in Alabama. The high court, in a 5-4 decision, ordered Alabama in September to redraw its map to include a second district with a majority-Black population.

Southwick noted that Louisiana is in a similar situation, with only a single Black-majority district out of six. “The black population is one-third of Louisiana’s residential population, yet it has only one out of six opportunities to elect their preferred candidates,” the opinion noted.

The current map was vetoed by outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, but that veto was overridden by the Legislature’s Republican majority. “This is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law,” Edwards said in a statement issued Friday. “With the 5th Circuit’s action today, I remain confident that we will have a fair map with two majority Black districts before the congressional elections next year.”

Edwards did not say whether he intended to call a special session to consider new maps before he leaves office January 8. Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, a Republican, has not responded to requests for comment on the court decision.

If a new map is not approved by January 15, a federal court would move ahead with the current civil rights lawsuit, which could result in the court unilaterally implementing a different district plan. Whether the Legislature voluntarily changes the map or not, the appeals court ruled, a final map that the court determines to be constitutional must be in place in time “to be used for the 2024 Louisiana congressional elections.”

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